Fears grow over threat to freedom in elections

Bosnia's shaky peace: Amid concern that poll will confirm warmongers' hold on power, PM sounds out Karadzic's opponents

Less than four months before the first post-war general elections in Bosnia, international observers and Bosnian Muslim officials are raising the alarm over whether the vote will be free and fair. Still worse, many fear that even if the elections go ahead, their main effect will be to consolidate Bosnia's de facto partition into three national zones - Muslim, Serb and Croat.

The International Helsinki Federation, a leading human rights group, called last Thursday for the vote to be postponed, saying that to hold it by 14 September as foreseen in the Dayton peace agreement would merely confirm the dominance of the nationalist political forces that sparked the war.

"It is seriously to be feared that one will see cemented the practices of ethnic separation, and that the people who led the war will continue to decide the fate of Bosnia-Herzegovina," said Dardan Gashi, a consultant for the group.

The United States, Britain, France, Germany and Russia are expected to meet the leaders of Bosnia, Croatia and Serbia in Geneva soon to press for full compliance with civilian aspects of the Dayton agreement, including the return of refugees and the holding of free elections. The meeting will address international concerns that none of the three former combatants is doing as much as is necessary to avert the risk of Bosnia's three-way partition.

Bosnia's Muslim president, Alija Izetbegovic, and his colleagues, argue that the elections should not take place unless Radovan Karadzic and General Ratko Mladic, the Bosnian Serb leaders charged with war crimes, have given up office.

They say the two men are certain to manipulate the vote if still on the scene, and point out that the Dayton agreement calls for the removal of indicted war criminals. However, among countries with troops in the 60,000-strong Nato-led peace implementation force in Bosnia, the US in particular seems unwilling to make elections conditional on the fate of Messrs Karadzic and Mladic. The State Department spokes-man, Nicholas Burns, said on Wednesday that as long as Mr Karadzic was marginalised and confined to his headquarters at Pale, outside Sarajevo, "I think the elections can go forward and will go forward with him sitting in his bitter isolation".

As yet, however, Mr Karadzic is in anything but bitter isolation. Last weekend he beat off an attempt by Carl Bildt, the international High Representative overseeing the civilian aspects of Dayton, to push him out of power. Now he is threatening to stage a referendum among Bosnian Serbs to muster popular support for his opposition to the peace settlement.

Meanwhile, Gen Mladic attended the funeral of another Serb war crimes suspect in Belgrade on Tuesday, in his first public appearance outside Bosnian Serb territory since the war ended last December. The UN war crimes tribunal attacked Serbia for letting in the general, saying the Dayton settlement obliges signatories not to shield suspects on their soil.

Nato's Secretary-General, Javier Solana, denied yesterday that Western countries had tacitly agreed to let Messrs Karadzic and Mladic remain in Bosnian Serb territory so long as they withdrew from public view and shed most of their powers. However, Western officials acknowledge that there is little appetite for arresting the two men, lest it provoke an anti-Nato backlash among the Bosnian Serb population that could wreck the elections.

The US, Britain and other countries with troops in Bosnia want the elections to proceed on schedule for fear the Dayton timetable may disintegrate. Although they acknowledge Nato troops may have to stay in Bosnia beyond the original deadline of next December, Western governments do not want their presence in Bosnia to turn into an open-ended commitment.

The prospects for holding elections by mid-September were not improved yesterday by an announcement that municipal elections in Mostar, the southern city divided between Muslims and Croats, will be held in late June instead of the scheduled date of 31 May.

Mr Izetbegovic's Muslim-led party, the Party of Democratic Action, had previously refused to participate in the elections on the grounds that Muslim refugees from Mostar would be denied the chance to vote.

The city had a slight Muslim majority before the 1992-95 war, but after fighting broke out, Bosnian Croats declared it the capital of their self- styled mini-state, Herzeg-Bosnia.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
The two faces revealed by the ultraviolet light
newsScholars left shaken after shining ultraviolet light on 500-year-old Welsh manuscript
News
Rosamund Pike played Bond girld Miranda Frost, who died in Die Another Day (PA)
news
Arts and Entertainment
books
News
newsHow do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? With people like this
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: In House Counsel - Contracts

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This leading supplier of compliance software a...

Recruitment Genius: Associate System Engineer

£24000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Associate System Engineer r...

Recruitment Genius: Executive Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An Executive Assistant is required to join a l...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager - B2B, Corporate - City, London

£45000 - £50000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
11 best bedside tables

11 best bedside tables

It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
Italy vs England player ratings: Did Andros Townsend's goal see him beat Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney to top marks?

Italy vs England player ratings

Did Townsend's goal see him beat Kane and Rooney to top marks?
Danny Higginbotham: An underdog's tale of making the most of it

An underdog's tale of making the most of it

Danny Higginbotham on being let go by Manchester United, annoying Gordon Strachan, utilising his talents to the full at Stoke and plunging into the world of analysis
Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police

Steve Bunce: Inside Boxing

Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat